Connacht’s fate in their own hands
IN the last 15 years you can count on one hand the number of times Connacht have played really meaningful, edge-of-your-seat games this late in the season.
It has happened on three occasions up until this campaign, and each time it has ended in disappointment.
The 2003 European Challenge Cup semi-final against Harlequins, the 2005 semi-final against Sale, and the 2010 last-four encounter with Toulon are the only examples of rugby in the west of Ireland that had the eyes and ears of the sporting enthusiasts in Spring.
A new qualification format and a staggering improvement in form from the westerners has made for an interesting season. For the first time ever, a top six place in the Pro 12 provides a direct route into Europe’s elite competition (now called the Champions Cup), and Connacht are in the running to secure their place there.
Their three previous forays into the Heineken Cup came thanks to Irish sides (namely Leinster) winning the competition, but this time they might just get there on their own bat. At the start of the season, Pat Lam and his squad spoke continuously about their goal of finishing in the top half of the table.
It was ambitious, but most of us predicted that they would fall heroically short at best. Yet, here they are, with three games left and still in sixth spot. They are tied with the Scarlets but have won more games and thus hold the tie-breaker.
This Saturday at 1.05 pm, Glasgow will visit the Sportsground for a vital game. Lam’s men will need at least two wins from their final three games (Zebre away in Parma on May 9 and Ospreys at home on May 16).
Whatever happens, it has been a season like no other following Connacht.